Pain, Uncertainty, Constant Work: Lessons from Stutz

Jonah Hill and his therapist talking and sitting on chairs
Photo Credit: Netflix’s new documentary Stutz

Jonah Hill’s new Netflix documentary called Stutz has a simple premise: Hill interviews his psychiatrist who dramatically improved his outlook on life through five years of therapy.  His goal is to bring Stutz’s tools to more people.  It’s a fascinating look at the human condition and how you move through life in a positive way.  One of his tenets is that life is filled with three unavoidable aspects:

  • Pain
  • Uncertainty
  • Constant work

Many people try to avoid these aspects of life and in so doing, become depressed or unhappy.  However, once someone embraces the notion that pain, uncertainty and hard work are part of life, and that working through these things are what bring joy, the happier they become.

These same tenets apply to the college application process.


Homework, test prep, essays, going deep in extracurricular activities, managing stress are all inherent to the process.  It can be painful at times, but working through that pain can also bring great joy.  One of my clients captured this sentiment perfectly when she wrote about getting the perfect spiccato on her violin.

When I was learning spiccato (a fancy word for lightly bouncing the violin bow on the string to get sharp and separated notes), the vagueness of my teacher’s instructions to keep the bow light and stay close to the violin string was beyond frustrating. I sought a formula—some golden rule that would uncover the secret to mastering spiccato in a week’s time.

But the string’s elasticity provokes bouncing and skidding in a bow lacking steady pressure. The thin, temperamental string will also produce a crunchy and squeaky sound should too much pressure be applied. To my dismay, perfecting the technique meant exhausting every possible bow pressure, positioning, and grip.

Playing the violin can certainly be a balancing act, yet I love experimenting with my instrument and exploring its potential. I’ve come to develop a curiosity about how the violin plays: what richens the sound of my vibrato or solidifies my bow’s contact with the string. And when I finally, successfully sink my violin bow into the string for a sonorous note to finish off a piece, I’m filled with an elation that’s made even more satisfying by the difficulty of the task.


College admissions is nothing if not filled with uncertainty, which has become heightened in the last three years with the rise in applications and data analytics to predict who will come.  Students who fret over not getting into a school where they think they should get in given their profile, can spiral into a cycle of stress.

Students who embrace the uncertainty and identify a number of schools where they can achieve their goals and be happy, end up having more positive outcomes. These students recognized that there are many paths to success and are pleasantly surprised by their options.

Constant work.  

“40 questions a day, every day.” 

“How is that possible?” My daughter asked her tutor when she proposed this method for preparing for her medical school subject exams.

“40 questions a day, every day.There is no other way” Her tutor replied again.

Prior to their conversation, it seemed like my daughter spent as much time complaining: This test is stupid!  Why do we need to know this?  This is so unfair! as she did her studying.  But something shifted after that conversation. Although initially daunting, she embraced it.

No matter how tired she was from her rotations, she studied according to plan every day without fail.  She started enjoying the feeling of mastering the material and seeing her improvement. The process became manageable, and for the first time, she entered her exams feeling confident and anxiety free.

This same process goes for preparing for the SAT or ACT, midterms, and papers.  Embracing the constant nature of work actually frees you up from anxiety and allows you to enjoy the process and have MORE time to enjoy other aspects of your life. 

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